Rio de Janeiro became the monumental, picturesque city it is today through a centuries-long process of radical architectural and environmental transformation. A new digital atlas, imagineRio, reveals how the city’s urban evolution has unfolded from its 16th century roots to the present day. “Rio’s current geography is far different from its past, as city planners literally moved mountains, remade beaches, demolished neighborhoods, and constructed new buildings where there was once just water,” explained a Getty Foundation press release about the project. “imagineRio reveals hundreds of years of human intervention responsible for the metropolis’ iconic vistas and invites users to explore its history.”
The site integrates thousands of historical photographs, architectural plans, and drawings and paintings of Rio’s cityscape with an interactive map and 3D geolocation technology. The wide variety of aerial, elevated, and street-level views allow users to reconstruct the city’s dynamic expansion block by block, and to trace the development of iconic sites like Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Mountain and Copacabana Beach. imagineRio’s extensive search filters and interactive mapping system offer scholars and the general public alike the opportunity to study the growth of South America’s third-largest metropolis over time.
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The project was initially developed by Rice University professors Farès el-Dahdah and Alida C. Metcalf in collaboration with the institution’s Center for Research Computing and Spatial Studies Lab, as well as Axis Maps. The team also partnered with the Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS), which contributed a cache of some 3,000 geolocated photographs of Rio’s cityscapes from the 19th and 20th centuries. The images include snaps by important local photographers like Marc Ferrez and Augusto Malta. “imagineRio allows users to peer over the shoulders of some of Brazil’s most celebrated photographers as they captured a city changing before their eyes,” Sergio Burgi, head of photography at IMS, explained in the press release. “The platform’s new 3D integration transforms these photographs from singular, flat images into a tapestry of interactive moments.”
The Getty Foundation funded the project through its Digital Art History initiative, which seeks to introduce cutting-edge technologies to art historical research. But the project’s experimental, multidisciplinary reach could also be of use to urban planners, literary scholars, cartographers, architects, historians, and others.